I first came across pentimento in an art class. When I heard it, I thought of an iceberg– not because of the sound– but the word itself seemed to travel deeper than its surface meaning. I remember my teacher explaining what pentimento means; she used the word “reappearance” which is a strange word itself meaning that something once was, or appeared. Pentimento is the reappearance of an element or painting that was at one point, painted over. So pentimento is an uncovering, a reveal, a secret even.

When I first thought of living in Vietnam, I imagined it would be one of my ephemeral ideas- I thought it would pass over like a flower that comes to bloom. But Vietnam stuck for no particular reason. It seemed so foreign to me, like a challenge. What I haven’t expressed, because it is difficult to put into words, is that my writing thus far seems like the painting with all the originals underneath. I thought that maybe going somewhere completely different would uncover the pentimenti. I want to write as if I were not covering up things but uncovering meanings, reappearing those truths that have been painted over with time.

But I also wanted to come to Vietnam and see all the originals, something you cannot do by simply visiting a place. You must live there. You must struggle there and you must learn what has been painted over.

Pentimentalism then is the study of all those things; I want to say it will be the study of my own writing and it will be the pursuit of reappearing what is purely Vietnamese. I say reappearing because to say I can uncover truths about this culture is not correct, these truths already exist but they are not my truths yet. Pentimentalism, then, is also a mentality, one that I will use to travel and see a new world.


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